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Colorado: Court upholds rules that protect water from uranium mining and protect right to public involvement

Legal battles over uranium mining in Colorado continue.

Canadian company tries to overturn state rules

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Efforts by a Canadian mining company to bully Colorado came to naught last week, as Denver District Court Judge Christina Habas upheld state regulations that protect water from in situ leach uranium mining impacts.

In its lawsuit against the state, Powertech Uranium Corp. claimed that the Colorado exceeded its legal authority and that adoption of the rules was arbitrary and capricious.

By dismissing the lawsuit, the court also ensured that local communities will have a chance to be involved in the permitting of uranium mines.

“The Colorado uranium mining industry is wrong to keep fighting water quality protections and better public involvement,” said Western Mining Action Project attorney Jeff Parsons, who represented local communities that intervened on the side of the State in defending the rules against the Powertech lawsuit.

“The people of Colorado have a right to be heard and will not accept mining projects that cannot protect the water,” he said.

The lawsuit challenged a list of specific rules, each designed to ensure ground water protection as well as require public and local government involvement in the mine permit process. The rules were crafted over a two-year process and were supported by a diverse range of groups, including Coloradoans Against Resource Destruction (C.A.R.D.), Environment Colorado and other conservation groups statewide, Denver Water, multiple local governments and affected communities.

“Powertech had told us from day one that they could and would restore our water,” said Weld County land owner Robin Davis, a co-founder of C.A.R.D. whose ranch is adjacent to Powertech’s proposed mine site.

“Instead of making good on that promise, the company instead sought through the courts to eliminate ground water protections and exclude the public from the process. If it can’t fulfill its promises of protecting our precious water supplies, Powertech should formally abandon this risky project.”

Powertech has already asked U.S. EPA and Colorado regulators to suspend work on any permitting related to the so-called “Centennial Project” but has refused to publicly withdraw its proposal.

This is the second time in recent months the uranium mining industry has lost lawsuits in state court aimed at weakening ground water protections. On April 9, 2012, Denver District Court Chief Judge Robert Hyatt rejected a case by the Cotter Corporation against the Mined Land Reclamation Board attempting to fight clean-up orders at its Schwartzwalder Mine, which has contaminated Denver Water supplies on Ralston Creek near Golden.

“Frankly, we expect better from the Colorado mining industry, both because of the real threats they can pose and their repeated promises about protecting water and communities,” Parsons said, crediting state agencies for vigorously defending the case.

“They have helped ensure both that Coloradans have ample involvement in mine permitting and that Colorado never again suffers the indignity of serious water contamination at the hands of irresponsible mining companies.”

Coloradoans Against Resource Destruction, based in Wellington, Colo.; Tallahassee Area Community, based in Cañon City, Colo.; and Sheep Mountain Alliance, based in Telluride, Colo.; joined together to intervene in the lawsuit.

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